Top Engineers – Robert Ludwig

Ravel / Haydn / Acoustic Recording Series, Volume 2 – Reviewed in 2008

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

A good sounding audiophile record? Yes, it is possible, we would never deny it.

In fact, we actually sell some of the best ones ourselves.

The sound on the record is excellent. It was engineered by Mark Levinson, on special equipment designed to create virtually noiseless ultra-low-distortion master tapes, without noise-reduction systems. It’s mastered by Robert Ludwig


The Rolling Stones – How Do the TML Copies Sound?

More of the Music of The Rolling Stones

Reviews and Commentaries for Sticky Fingers

A listing for an early domestic Hot Stamper pressing for Sticky Fingers will typically be introduced like this:

If you have never heard one of our Hot Stamper pressings of the album, you (probably) cannot begin to appreciate just how amazing the sound is.

A landmark Glyn Johns / Andy Johns recording, our favorite by the Stones, a Top 100 Title (of course) and 5 stars on Allmusic (ditto).

After hearing so much buzz about it, we finally broke down and ordered a German TML pressing about a year ago. Having played scores of phenomenally good sounding copies of the album over the past fifteen or so years, we were very skeptical that anyone could cut the record better than the mastering engineers who inscribed Rolling Stones Records into the dead wax on the early pressings. (I could find no mastering engineers credited.)

Well, the results were not good. As we suspected would be the case, we were not impressed in the least with what The Mastering Lab — one of the greatest independent cutting houses of all time, mind you — had wrought.

Their version is not really even good enough to sell. It might have earned a grade of One Plus, just under the threshold for a Hot Stamper that we would put on the site these days. Decent, but no more than that.

Wait, There’s More

We subsequently learned that it is the British TML pressingss that are supposed to be the best.

So we got one of those in, an A3/B4 copy.

Better, but good enough? Barely.

Here are the notes for the copy we played. For those who have trouble reading our writing, I have transcribed the notes as follows:

Side One

Track one:

Weighty, a bit veiled or smeary. Backing vox kinda lost.

Track three:

Very full, rockin’ but not the sparkle/space.

Kinda compressed.

Not as huge.

Side Two

Track two:

Not as rich, clear.

A bit pushy/dry vox.

No real space.

Thick drums

Track one:

This works better.

A bit hard, but full and lively.

This Sound?

Is this the sound audiophiles are raving about?

It shouldn’t be, but apparently it is.

However, it’s not as though we haven’t run into this issue hundreds and hundreds of times before. Audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them regularly rave about one Heavy Vinyl pressing after another being The Greatest of All Time, yet we have never found a single instance in which this was true for any of the modern reissues they have seen fit to crown.

Not one.

Three Little Words

Our explanation for the mistaken judgments audiophiles and reviewers make so consistently has never been all that complicated. As you may have read elsewhere on this blog:

More evidence, if any were needed, that the three most important words in the world of audio are compared to what?

No matter how good a particular copy of a record may sound to you, when you clean and play enough of them you will almost always find one that’s better, and often surprisingly better.

You must keep testing all the reissues you can find, and you must keep testing all the originals you can find.

Shootouts are the only way to find these kinds of very special records. That’s why you must do them.

Nothing else works. If you’re not doing shootouts (or buying the winners of shootouts from us), you simply don’t have top quality copies in your collection, except in the rare instances where you just got lucky. In the world of records luck can only take you so far. The rest of the journey requires effort.

This bit of boilerplate for Heavy Vinyl pressings seems a perfect match for the TML recuts on regular-weight vinyl we played. The reason for that is not hard to appreciate: good records tend to do a lot of the same things well, and bad records tend to have the same faults.

As a general rule, this pressing will fall short in some or all of the following areas when played head to head against the vintage LPs we offer:

If you would like to hear what you’ve been missing, there’s a chance we have a Hot Stamper pressing of the album in stock. Click here to see.


Led Zeppelin / II – Jimmy Page Remasters a Classic, Part III

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

UPDATE 9/6/2023

One of our customers did his own comparison with two pressings he had on hand. (Boldening added.)

I briefly listened to the recent JP copy against the RL pressing I have from Presswell. I think that (according to Robert Brook) the Monarch or Specialty ones usually win your shootouts, and that the Presswells don’t often sound as transparent. The copy I have is pretty good but probably still falls into this category.

Having said that, my main takeaway was the almost complete absence of reverb on the JP copy. This was especially apparent when listening to the big drums and the vocals. The RL cut seems to give a much better sense of the studio and more space around the instruments, on my system.

The imaging and placement of the musicians is clear and distinct, but not as spacious as the RL pressing. The tonality and timbre on the JP cut are very good though, and the mix is not muddy and does not fall apart in loud complex passages like most other modern pressings I have heard. But this may have been his intention: to focus the instruments and tighten up the way the compositions come across without the “echoey” quality of the reverb and the overwhelming bass of the RL cut.

Also the JP cut is a bit more angular sounding and less tubey magic, but that could be my pressing — which is definitely tubey.

The overall sound of the JP is surprisingly good, but it sounds a more compressed to me than the RL, and the dynamic range also seems a bit more constricted.



A lot of what you are hearing I would have to check again, since a lot of what you note is not something that stuck out to me, although it ties in to the one big issue that is fundamental to the difference in sound between the two pressings.

I’ve just been reading what different reviewers have said about the sound of the new album versus the old one, and most of it does not sound very much like the albums I played, but double-checking all this now that I live in GA is going to be hard!

I may have my main guy Riley give it another listen for some things, like reverb and compressed dynamics, and see what he thinks.

Best, TP

Click here to read the original story from January, 2023

Further Reading

David Bowie – David Live

More David Bowie

  • A David Live like you’ve never heard, with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on sides one and four, and excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on sides two and three
  • One of our favorite live recordings – a great overview of Bowie’s career through 1974
  • “1984,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Sweet Thing” and “Rock and Roll With Me” come ALIVE in performance like you have never heard before
  • A-List players of the day deliver sonic treats, including multiple horn players, multiple percussionists, all-male chorus background vocals, the searing fuzzed-out guitar leads of Earl Slick, piano and Mellotron by Mike Garson, and the amazing Herbie Flowers on bass
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” with an accent on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. David Live is a good example of a record audiophiles may not know well but we think might benefit from getting to know better
  • If I were to compile a list of Must Own Rock and Pop Albums from 1974, this album would definitely be on it

When you listen to an outstanding copy of this Bowie classic, you will have no trouble picturing yourself in the audience with a front row center seat. And the great thing about a record like this is that you can be in the front row of this very concert whenever you want!

The other top live album is, of course, Waiting For Columbus, and the two have much in common. Most importantly, the songs played live on both albums are consistently better than their studio versions. (This is especially true on the Little Feat album. Little Feat was not a studio band and their live arrangements — with the Tower of Power horns — just murder the studio ones.)

For us audiophiles, the other reason to own a Hot Copy of David Live or Waiting For Columbus is that the sound is much improved over most of the studio albums in which the material was originally found. Have you ever heard a good sounding “Diamond Dogs”?

But David Live is full of great sounding material from the album. “1984” is much better here than on the original album. “Rebel Rebel,” “Sweet Thing” and “Rock & Roll With Me” also come alive in performance. They rock!


The Three – Forget the Wrong Direct Disc on Eastwind

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Three Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Three

There are two takes for the Direct Disc, the second of which is terrible and the first of which can be found with Hot Stamper sound.

The second take is so bad I simply cannot stand to listen to it anymore, no matter how good the sound is. And most of the direct disc copies do not sound all that good anyway, truth be told.

The only combination of music and sound that makes any sense to us here at Better Records is take 1 of the direct disc, the 45 RPM from tape, and the 33 from that same tape, which is the version that is found on the Inner City label.

The Inner City LPs are exceptionally difficult to find in quiet condition on flat vinyl. I can’t tell you how many I run across that are noisy and warped. I used to buy them off eBay but I got so many bad ones I finally just gave up and threw in the towel.

I could go on for days about the sound of this album and how much I like the music, but for now I’m going to let our previous commentary suffice. Believe me, you have probably never heard a record like this in your life, it’s that good.

Let’s Talk Energy

This is a quality no one seems to be writing about, other than us of course, but what could possibly be more important? On this record, the more energetic copies took the player’s performances to a level beyond all expectations. It is positively SHOCKING how lively and dynamic this record is. I know of no other recording with this combination of sonic and musical energy. It is sui generis, in a league of its own.

Ne Plus Ultra Piano Trio

This is without a doubt my favorite piano trio record of all time.

Joe Sample, Shelly Manne and Ray Brown only made one album together, this one, recorded direct to disc right here in Los Angeles for Eastwind in the Seventies. Joe Sample for once in his life found himself in a real Class A trio, and happily for jazz fans around the world he rose to the occasion. Actually it was more like an epiphany, as this is the one piano trio album I put in a class by itself. All three of The Three are giving us the best they’ve got on this November day in 1975.

When it comes to small combo piano jazz, there is none better.


Donald Fagen / The Nightfly

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

  • With two outstanding sides, this early pressing is guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard
  • Punchy and high-resolution, check out the cymbals and muted guitar on “I.G.Y.” — they sound Right On The Money here
  • The sound may be too heavily processed and glossy for some, but we find that on the best copies that sound works about as well as any for this album
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A portrait of the artist as a young man, The Nightfly is a wonderfully evocative reminiscence of Kennedy-era American life; in the liner notes, Donald Fagen describes the songs as representative of the kinds of fantasies he entertained as an adolescent during the late ’50s/early ’60s, and he conveys the tenor of the times with some of his most personal and least obtuse material to date.”

Energetic and present, this copy is on a completely different level than most pressings. We just finished a big shootout for Donald Fagen’s solo effort from 1982 (just two years after Gaucho and the end of Steely Dan) and we gotta tell you, there are a lot of weak-sounding copies out there. We should know; we played them.

We’ve been picking copies up for more than a year in the hopes that we’d have some killer Hot Stamper copies to offer, but most of them left us cold. Flat, edgy and bright, like a bad copy of Graceland, only a fraction had the kind of magic we find on the better Steely Dan albums.

Both sides here are incredibly clear and high-rez compared to most pressings, with none of the veiled, smeary quality we hear so often. The vocals are breathy, the bass is clear and the whole thing is open and spacious.

How Analog Is It?

The ones we like the best will tend to be the ones that sound the most Analog. The more they sound like the average pressing — in other words, the more CD-like they sound — the lower the sonic grade. Many will not have even one Hot Stamper side and will end up in the trade-in pile.

The best copies sound the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, Tubey Magical, with breathy vocals and little to no spit, grit, grain or grunge.

That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of The Nightfly have that sound.


AC/DC – Back In Black

More AC/DC

 More Top 100 Rock and Pop Titles

  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish, this Back In Black ROCKS like nothing you’ve heard
  • Both sides play with exceptionally (and unusually) quiet surfaces for a Robert Ludwig original
  • RL is the king on this title, which means the conventional wisdom is right for once!
  • It’s been years since we got hold of a copy that sounds this good and plays this quietly – it’s one of only a handful to hit the site with both sides graded Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • Top 100, and if you turn it up good and loud, one of the biggest, boldest, hardest rockin’ records ever made
  • 5 stars: “… tawdry celebration of sex is what made AC/DC different from all other metal bands — there was no sword & sorcery, no darkness, just a rowdy party, and they never held a bigger, better party than they did on Back in Black.”
  • Robert Ludwig used humongous amounts of tube compression on Back in Black, and we’re glad he did. All that compression is at least partly responsible for it being a Rock Demo Disc of the highest order.

You probably never thought you’d ever use an AC/DC LP as a Demo Disc, but this copy will have you reconsidering that notion — it’s ALIVE with Rock and Roll Power Chords like nothing you have ever heard.

For Riff Rock you just can’t do much better than Back In Black. AMG gives it 5 Stars and rightfully so. Musically it’s got everything you’d want from this genre of heavy rock — a tight, punchy rhythm section; raging guitar riffs; and deliciously decadent lyrics screamed to perfection.

What took us by surprise was how amazing this music sounds on the right copy. You’ve probably heard these songs a million times, but we bet you haven’t heard them sound like this. This is the kind of record that you’ll want to keep turning up. The louder you play it, the better it gets — but only if you’ve got a pressing that rocks like this one.

The transparency and clarity are shocking — we heard texture on the guitars and room around the drums that simply weren’t to be found on most copies, plus tons of lovely analog reverb and natural studio ambience.

And of course the bottom end is big, beefy, and rock-solid, just the way we like it. I ask you, what album from 1980 sounds better than Back in Black?


What to Listen For on The Nightfly

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

We just finished a big shootout for Donald Fagen’s solo effort from 1982 (just two years after Gaucho and the end of Steely Dan) and we gotta tell you, there are a lot of weak sounding copies out there. We should know; we played them. 

Robert Ludwig cut all the originals we played. Are you going to tell me that every copy with RL in the dead wax sounds the same as every other copy with those initials? The question answers itself.

What to Listen For

The upper mids on certain tracks of both sides have a tendency to be brighter than we would have liked.

Ruby Baby on side one can be that way, and the title track on side two has some of the wannabe hit single radio EQ that makes it the “least likely to succeed” so to speak.

On a good copy the first track of each side should be all you need to hear.


Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

More Dire Straits

Reviews and Commentaries for Brothers in Arms

  • A vintage pressing that was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Tonally correct from start to finish, with a solid bottom and fairly natural vocals (for this particular recording of course), HERE is the sound they were going for in the studio
  • After doing a comparison between our top copy and the Chris Bellman 45 RPM remaster, at very loud levels mind you, I now have much more respect for this recording than ever before – it’s truly a Demo Disc on the right Robert-Ludwig-mastered copy
  • Drop the needle on “So Far Away” – it’s airy, open, and spacious, yet still rich and full-bodied
  • 4 stars: “One of their most focused and accomplished albums … Dire Straits had never been so concise or pop-oriented, and it wore well on them.”
  • We admit that the sound may be too processed and lacking in Tubey Magic for some
  • When it comes to Tubey Magic, there simply is none — that’s not the sound Neil Dorfsman, the engineer who won the Grammy for this very album, was going for
  • We find that the best properly-mastered, properly-pressed copies, when playing at good loud levels on our system, gave us sound that was wall to wall, floor to ceiling, glorious, powerful and exciting, just not Tubey Magical

Fully extended from top to bottom with a wide-open soundstage, this is the sound you need for this music. There’s plenty of richness and fullness here as well — traits that are really crucial to getting the most out of a mid-’80s recording like this.

The bottom end on “So Far Away” really delivers the goods — it’s punchy and meaty with healthy amounts of tight, deep bass.


Led Zeppelin / II – Jimmy Page Remasters a Classic, Updated

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

UPDATE 6/18/23

A customer who bought one of our Hot Stampers was sent the Page remaster, free of charge of course. He wrote us a nice letter about what a thrill it was to hear such an amazing record — the original, not the reissue — and we made the following comment to him about the shootout he said he was going to do.


Pay special attention in your shootout to The Lemon Song. I am going to discuss some things I learned about it recently. See how all your versions do on the song and what you think each version is doing right and wrong.

Enjoy and have fun.

Click here to read the whole story from January, 2023

Further Reading